Letter: Open Space Pace a resounding success

From Lillian Burry, Monmouth County Freeholder
To the editor:
   Our precious horse industry has been resuscitated! The first annual Open Space Pace daylong racing and entertainment spectacular at Freehold Raceway on Sept. 29 was an unqualified success!
   Record crowds came to the track to enjoy the pageantry and excitement. It was a free, spirited, family-oriented day of food, top-flight music and over 30 vendors; complete with celebrity appearances and giveaways. Over 3,000 people took part in the day’s festivities, which began at the Hall of Records in downtown Freehold with a colorful Parade of Horses that led revelers to the track.
   A wide array of equine groups, governmental organizations, individuals, vendors, sponsors and private businesses took part, including Rutgers University, the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Monmouth County Parks, Agriculture and Tourism, the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, the Standard Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, Trump National Golf Club, Freehold Borough and some of the state’s most notable horse farms and equestrian facilities. Stellar members of the state’s equine industry and a host of volunteers joined forces in the fight to support and sustain this vital source of jobs, revenue, tradition and open space in New Jersey.
   As the day’s exciting special races enlivened the track, live music emanating from a special stage set up on the grounds kept the crowds entertained all day. The Dani Bochner Band, the Eddie Testa Band, Pat Guadagno with Richard Blackwell, and the Nick Clemons Band played from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Just before 5 p.m., none other than the Garden State’s own Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes took the stage before a soldout audience, playing for almost two hours, thrilling the dancing, singing, partying crowd with three encores! For an astonishing $20 per person ticket fee, Southside Johnny’s most ardent fans mingled with the many Open Space Pace organizers and volunteers who worked so hard for many months to make the day the wonderful success it was.
   The festive, congenial atmosphere was punctuated by the important reason for the event’s creation — fighting to keep horse breeding and racing viable in New Jersey where horse-related operations account for some 13,000 jobs. About 42,000 horses reside here; many in the racing industry. Over 176,000 acres of land support more than 70 equine facilities statewide —acreage that could be lost to development. There is no doubt that equine pursuits in New Jersey provide immeasurable recreational, social, cultural and economic benefits.
   Horse-related operations in New Jersey need strong, ongoing support from the state and they need it now if racing is to remain viable here. Too much of the Garden State’s once-thriving equine industry, including its majestic horses, have already been lured to other states by larger purses and more welcoming policies and practices. New Jersey’s economy, and well as its agricultural traditions will suffer if we allow this to continue. Such changes as allowing racinos at our racetracks and lengthening the number of race days at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park are critical to this mission.
   It is up to all of us to keep the momentum going and growing! We must continue to dedicate ourselves to creating awareness of the importance of the horse, our state animal, and what it means to our quality of life. Based on the success of the first Open Space Pace, organizers are already working to make this spectacular equine celebration bigger and better next year. Let’s work together on all fronts! Make your voice heard to your state legislators. Attend equine events and volunteer where you can. Together, those of us who appreciate, revere, and enjoy horses and open space can ensure the preservation of our precious equine heritage and all it affords for generations to come. Keep an eye out for Open Space Pace 2013 and bring your family and friends! You’ll be glad you did.
Lillian G. Burry
Monmouth County Freeholder